I thought I knew fair amount about American culture. I’ve wasted way too much of my life watching Friends, I regularly hear some great (but sometimes questionable) American music, The Great Gatsby is my all-time favorite book (after Harry Potter of course), and I grew up watching Toy Story along with any film featuring Leonardo Dicaprio. On my eight-hour flight from the UK I even watched a couple of episodes of New Girl. Therefore to my rather naive self, I was pretty well prepared.
However, the last two weeks have been an insane rollercoaster of a learning curve. It’s clichÃ©, but real life is not like the movies, mainly as you’re not told what to say. Although every introductory conversation I have had so far has been identical so I do have a script to answer questions like “What’s your major?” (History) “Why did you choose URI?” (So I can visit New York) and “Where are you from?” The answer to that last question often meets wide eyes and gasps as though the UK is a fantastical land, which it definitely is. While it’s funny, Â Americans’ love (or unhealthy obsession) of the British accent can get tiring, particularly when I am asked to say something like “blimey.” According to Americans, this is typical British slang. It really isn’t. That word died out about a century ago.
When I chose to study in America, I thought there wouldn’t be a language barrier. I soon realized a different language is practiced in the U.S. – it’s called American. Jumpers are called sweaters, a second year student is a sophomore, essays are called papers, the subject of your degree is called a major, chips are called fries and crisps are called chips. I’m in a constant state of confusion. The main issue is over the football/soccer debate, although I’m not going to give in and start calling it soccer.
Another thing which I am unable to let go is the spelling of colour or ‘color’. Each time I spell it with a U on an American computer, an evil red line appears beneath it. I might begin a campaign, adding the correct spelling to the dictionaries of the library computers.
I am not trying to resist all American culture. I‘ve taken a trip in a yellow school bus, which I was extremely overly excited about – it is only a form of public transport yet there is something undeniably American about a big yellow bus. There is also something very American about a big chocolate brownie. Whenever they are available I always end up sitting near them and despite my (weak) attempts to resist them, I always give in (way too quickly). Somehow I have avoided Dunkin’ Donuts for two weeks now. I really don’t know how this has happened as I know where they are. I swear they are just like the emergency buttons across campus – you can see one Dunkin’ Donut wherever you are in America.
The American’s capacity to see the best in any situation is one thing I have really noticed and admired. The way things are viewed is very different from how I may judge things as my typically British pessimistic outlook on the world contrasts with a general blind optimism some Americans can display. At the start of one of my classes the professor said that we all start the class with an A grade. We will keep this grade if we work hard, yet it will fall if we do not work to the best of our ability. To me, this suggests that we start at the top, at our peak and have to maintain it, rather than struggling through each assignment to gradually gain the marks for the top grade. Suggesting that the best is presumed until the worst is proven is something I had never really considered. Or perhaps I had just never considered how I viewed the world until I began studying here.
Since arriving I have met a huge range of people from different cultures and backgrounds who I would never have met if I had not taken the huge decision to study abroad. At a time when the cooperation between nations is so vital to the functioning of society, it is a shame that there is not more emphasis on studying abroad especially in the UK. In just two weeks, I’ve learned so much, too much to mention in one ‘paper’ but I can tell you where the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts is!